Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I vaguely knew that Nelson Ascher wrote about poetry in Portuguese; I didn't know he was a published poet himself. He's posted some translations of his work on Europundits. Normally, I don't have much use for translated poetry. Native language is so central and primary an element of a poem that I have some difficulty regarding a translation as anything other than an adaptation - not to be considered the thing in itself any more than the film made of a book ought to be confused for the novel itself.

But there are exceptions to this vague rule. Some translators take the original work as inspiration for their own flights of fancy. Edward Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is the model and exemplar of this derivative art. I don't read Persian - I merely rely on the informed opinion of those that do - but it is my understanding that the third-rate poetry of 'Umar Khayyam has only a passing resemblance to Fitzgerald's epochal editions. This is a *good thing*.

The above translations of Ascher's poems, on the other hand, have been selected by the writer himself, and thus, endorsed. I find myself ambiguous on the subject.

Oh, well, leaving all pedantic objections aside, there's a lot of excellent imagery in the selections - and imagery is, perhaps, the one element of poetics that is least reliant on the tricks of language. The bitter humor also comes across without linguistic confusion.

I especially liked "the Statue of Wallenberg".

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